All the blogs will write about this, and 4&20, MT Cowgirl and Intelligent Discontent already have. I fully expect Flathead Memo, the Western World and perhaps a few others (Last Best News, MT Public Radio) to do the same, and I’ll link to their stories then.
I haven’t read those posts yet, but I can tell you that this post will be long and perhaps a bit philosophical as well. We’ve got serious issues to discuss, and they deal with business, ethics, salesmanship, honor and integrity. They deal with hard work and the ability to make people nod their heads to your words and more than that, trust you.
Montana will lose a great deal of that trust on May 29, for that’ll be the last day of both Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson, two reporters that have been working in Montana for a combined 61 years (Johnson since ’77 and Dennison since ’92). I profiled Johnson when I wrote about Quality Montana Reporters earlier this month, and Dennison is covered in the Great Falls Tribune article that appeared today.
The news came out at 5 PM today on Twitter, brought to us by Eve Byron, who’s over at followthemoney.org.
Perhaps this was in the cards all along. John Adams was jettisoned from the Great Falls Tribune earlier this year and some new reporters installed in the capitol. We also saw some staff change positions at the Missoulian earlier this year, though at the time editor Sherry Devlin assured me that this was nothing. I had no reason to doubt her, but sometimes I wonder what publisher Mark Heintzelman has in store for that paper. Could layoffs at the Missoulian be next?
What are these layoffs, really? In this case the positions aren’t being eliminated, it’s just that the pay is going down. What are the reasons for this?
- Reduced readership for newspapers because of online content is certainly a factor.
- Higher costs for newspapers due to new healthcare laws might also be a reason.
- The overall payroll burden that having someone for thirty years or so brings to an organization is certainly something that is thought of when economic reports come up.
- And let’s not forget about ageism, and how perhaps even with all their experience, editors and publishers and CFOs feel that younger blood needs to be brought in to appeal to a changing demographic, or at least one they’d like to reach.
Those all could be reasons, and perhaps pieces of them are all mixed together to come up with the decision that was reached today. I know the newspapers will be writing about it for the next week or more, and all of the regular columnists and letter-writers will pontificate, as I’m doing right now. And why shouldn’t we? This is like a slap in the face! I feel betrayed, personally, and at the same time I feel guilty.
- I feel betrayed because now we’ll have some ringers brought in, just like we see on TV news, when a new reporter rotates in for six months to a year before heading off to a new market. I feel betrayed because this means the quality of the information I get on a daily basis is now lessened, not just by a bit, but considerably so.
- I feel guilty because I know this blog and others like it, as well as all the great sites that give us free content, are really to blame here. “The Internet has undercut newspapers' entire revenue plan,” Dennison said in the Great Falls Tribune article today, “and that's what's leading to these types of decisions.”
Jim Strauss is both the editor and publisher at the Great Falls Tribune. We know that they did this same thing to John Adams, and it’s because the paper is losing money.
Nieman Lab had a report on May 14 called Newsonomics: Razor-thin profits are cutting into newspapers’ chances at innovation. The article discusses a “one year drop in net” revenue of 75% for Tribune Publishing, which has such heavy-hitters as The Chicago Tribune. Gannett had a 2014 Q1 profit of $44 million, but the 2015 Q1 profit was just $18.3 million. That might explain what happened to Adams, and it’s likely Lee Enterprise is seeing similar numbers. Altogether, the ten largest newspapers companies “took in no more than $50 million in net in the first quarter.” Compare that to the “$1.8 billion in net income” that Gannet had in 2005.
It’s amazing how much, in just ten years, that the internet has eroded that old style of journalism. By this point in the article I have gone and read the other Montana websites and their take on this story. All of them lament the pay cuts, and the ‘inevitable’ lower-quality, young, and inexperienced reporters that will come. The thing that none of them admit, however, and that all the newspaper companies in Montana know, is that every single one of them will be reading those new Lee Enterprises reporters next month or next year or whenever.
What choice do they have? They have none, and I’m not counting the TV reporters as a choice because they’re worse. We know the blogs are stationary and can’t get out to cover stories, because we don’t have the resources. It takes money to report from the capitol each day, and proper clothes to boot! You think bloggers can do that? Please!
I believe that Tyler Miller is now publisher at the IR, though I’m not sure if he had a say in this. Honestly, I feel that most editors and publishers in Montana are happy to be hanging onto their jobs, or at least their current salaries. And don’t think for one second that they haven’t already had their salaries reduced – they very well could have, I don’t know.
I’m not sure if Michael Gulledge is still publisher at the Billings Gazette or not. I do feel it’s well past time I make a flow chart showing the positions of all our reporters and publishers and editors and such. That’s good information to have, especially for political campaigns.
I hope you can tell that I’m a bit frustrated today, and I still just have to say, ‘Wow, what the hell were they thinking?’
Experience counts, and it’s what you pay for. We need to pay more if we expect quality, and quality was what Johnson and Dennison were! I’m deeply saddened and ashamed of the brass at Lee Enterprises for making this foul and obscene move. They’ve lost my trust, and some cub reporter isn’t going to replace that.
I wrote earlier this year how I saw Chuck Johnson listening intently to a legislator down in the Capitol basement. Sure, a younger reporter could do that too, but will they be able to add the perspective and years of nuance and ‘spice’ that go into our daily articles? Sometimes it’s just a sentence or even a word that really makes an article stand out. Sadly, after today we won’t be seeing a lot of that in our Lee Enterprise dailies.